To HDR or not HDR?

Discussion in 'Sony Alpha E-Mount Cameras' started by alaios, Jan 3, 2014.

  1. alaios

    alaios TalkEmount All-Pro

    Jan 11, 2013
    Hi all,
    few newbie questions sometimes pop out in mind...
    A.when do you think is the right time to HDR and
    B.which are the cases that HDR would return worse results compared to a "normal" shot?
    C. Is it possible to handheld HDR Shots and if yes what are your recommendation regarding the needed shutter speeds.

    I would like to thank you in advance for your replies

  2. quezra

    quezra TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Aug 22, 2012
    It's actually quite easy for me - look at your histogram - if you see peaks at both ends after you've done your best to expose correctly, you need more dynamic range - so switch to HDR mode. However, forget about any kind of action/movement shots. It's a landscape-only mode.

    I have handheld HDR shots - if I'm not wrong the camera stitching will sort out the overlap so it doesn't require any particular concentration from you. Probably don't want to be tossing your camera in the air while pressing the shutter I guess ;) 
  3. José De Bardi

    José De Bardi Assistant in Virtue Subscribing Member

    Aug 31, 2013
    Dorset, UK
    I use on-camera HDR whenever the subject/background are massively different in lighting, but that's it, its just annoying otherwise.

    Hand held is fine, as long as you have a steady hand - anything up to 1/80 is generally OK - so only slightly faster than single shot hand held is generally OK at. The camera actually does a very good job of lining the images back up again - it doesn't simply layer the 3 on top of each other, analyses the content to some degree and makes them line up even if you have a slight movement between exposures. I have used it on moving subject by accident and it actually just captures one, not 3 ghosts - I'm yet to work out how!

    HDR shots generally are a bit flat (but thats kind of the point), and washed out - adding a bit of saturation and contrast is usually a must in post...

    I have also done a few manual HDR's, its much easier to control the end result when you do it yourself with 3, 4 or 5 images you have chosen the aperture/exposure for. This of course needs a tripod.
  4. rtex42

    rtex42 TalkEmount Regular

    Jun 14, 2013
    Houston, Texas, USA
    If I remember correctly (I don't use it), in camera HDR produces the HDR image and the 0 EV image so you are not risking anything by shooting HDR.
    I shoot bracketed images for HDR so I always have the "normal" shot available as well.
  5. José De Bardi

    José De Bardi Assistant in Virtue Subscribing Member

    Aug 31, 2013
    Dorset, UK
    It does keep the 0 EV as well. Which is handy as often the HDR is no good.
  6. José De Bardi

    José De Bardi Assistant in Virtue Subscribing Member

    Aug 31, 2013
    Dorset, UK
  7. davect01

    davect01 Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Aug 20, 2011
    Fountain Hills, AZ
    Agree. If it's no good, just erase and you have the original.
  8. markoneswift

    markoneswift TalkEmount Veteran

    Oct 17, 2012
    The tip about checking the histogram is a good one - it's often hard to decide how much range is needed for a shot. I have often experimented with HDR with various DSLRs following lots of online guides and tutorials but I'm always disappointed - I must be doing some wrong :) 
  9. Poki

    Poki TalkEmount Hall of Famer

    Aug 30, 2011
    Never shoot HDR. Unless you really, really need to get an insane dynamic range - which is hardly ever the case with todays great sensors. It's overdone, it looks horrible most of the time and in most cases, it's not necessary. Of course it can be done right. Trey Ratcliff shot some awesome HDRs, but they're most awesome because of his style and composition, not because they are HDR.
  10. izTheViz

    izTheViz TalkEmount Top Veteran

    May 10, 2013
    Yannis Marigo
    Depends on the subject but when you have high contrasts a better and more natural option is
    to bracket like -2/0/+2 and do some manual blending where needed in Photoshop after getting the max from the normal exposed photo in LR.
    You can find some nice tutorial from Serge Ramelli on youtube.
    Works fine.
  11. Grisu_HDH

    Grisu_HDH TalkEmount Veteran

    Dec 16, 2012
    Southern Germany
    Use your histograms as mentioned before.
    And decide what look you want to achieve.
    A HDR never looks 100% realistic as our eyes sees the scene.

    You have to different beween HDR and ToneMapping also...
    HDR = combining different exposed shots to achive overall contrast and exposure
    ToneMapping = give HDRs a special look from booted up colors/contrast to comic

    And remember: HDRs are and will ever be a question of personal taste!
  12. tommie

    tommie TalkEmount Rookie

    Mar 7, 2013
    Stockholm, Sweden
    Don't aim to do "HDR" but rather aim to achieve the dynamic range that you need to get the best exposure out of a scene.
    Read up on ETTR. ETTR is a great way to increase the total dynamic range and get better tonality in a scene. The problem with the NEX-series is that is often under exposes images with up to around 1 EV.

    And if you need to do HDR anyway since a scene requires it (like standing in a dark tunnel and doing a shot that requires both the tunnel and the exterior to be properly exposed) rather use exposure fusion to achieve it since that will get you higher dynamic range without that ugly tonemapped look. There are a number of programs that can do expoure fusion like Photoshop or Photomatix (has to choose Exposure Fusion). If none of those work learn Photoshop and combine different exposures via masks.

    The HDR naysayers here have probably seen to many awful and overcooked tonemapped HDR's.
  13. radimere

    radimere TalkEmount Regular

    Apr 2, 2013
    I don't often get the luxury (nor do I have the discipline) to consistently shoot in ideal conditions, and I hate the hassle of graduated filters, or how they darken tall foreground objects, so for me HDR is an important tool.

    I find that garish HDR is only the case with tonemapped HDR—the default flavor that most people use. I usually shoot +-3EV bracketed shots, merge to HDR in Photoshop, and save the file as a 32-bit, non-tonemapped TIF. Then I play with the highlights, shadows and exposure in Lightroom. Totally nondestructive and looks more natural, since tonality isn't compressed. Just like a RAW file, but with insane dynamic range.

    This might not be the best example, since I skewed the colors (it was a bland, gray day), but the tonality isn't too OTT.

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  14. radimere

    radimere TalkEmount Regular

    Apr 2, 2013
    Interesting, since you can argue that our eyes do see in HDR. Suppose you sit in a dim room at noon. The room won't fade into darkness when you look out the window, nor will the window "blow out" when you look at the walls.

    What defines "realistic photography" was set by the limitations of film, and thus crystallized our aesthetic notions of what is good photography. The old masters worked with those limitations and produced timeless art. Now we have better tools but find ourselves repulsed by the results, because we have—for better or for worse—"outdated" standards.

    It's the same with VCR camcorders vs. Panavision cameras. Camcorders record life without motion blur and massive depth of field, and movie cameras record life like Mr. Magoo. But as viewers we hate the look of the former and moviemakers go to great lengths to simulate the "film" look in digital.

    TLDR: it's not about realism, but aesthetics. :) 
  15. Poki

    Poki TalkEmount Hall of Famer

    Aug 30, 2011
    So true.

    And while I agree that HDRs can be both realistic and beautiful, I just have seen far too many overdone, overprocessed HDRs that just looked awful. The one you posted here, however, looks pretty Trey Ratcliff like, i.e. it's beautiful!
    • Like Like x 1
  16. tommie

    tommie TalkEmount Rookie

    Mar 7, 2013
    Stockholm, Sweden
    Trey uses tonemapping and all overcooked HDR is basically tonemapped. The image radimere posted used Photoshops HDR 32-bit mode that don't tonemap but rather uses exposure fusion. Exposure fusion is a great way to get higher DR without making images look like complete garbage and without introducing extreme noise.
    • Like Like x 1
  17. Jefenator

    Jefenator TalkEmount Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Nov 23, 2012
    Oregon, USA
    I am not quite up on all the latest PP resources, but I am pretty amazed at what can be done with a simple RAW capture and the highlight & shadow sliders in Lightroom (along with the handy dodge & burn and gradient filter tools).

    For the shot below, I used the tripod and bracketed and tried my hand at HDR but found I liked my results much better, just manipulating the middle capture.

    Bristlecone Cabin by Jeff Addicott, on Flickr

    There certainly may be different situations where more advanced PP could be groovy. I just met a local landscape expert (Sean Bagshaw) and am very impressed by a lot of his work - might have to try his luminosity mask tutorials. (Though I fear his real secret - getting up before dawn and hiking up to catch the sunrise from the top of a ridge - might be beyond my capability. ;) )
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  18. radimere

    radimere TalkEmount Regular

    Apr 2, 2013
    Jefenator, the DR of your image suits the subject matter—direct sunlight outside, darkness with just a bit of ambient lift inside. In this case equalizing the exposures would've ruined light/shadow contrast and the depth of the photograph. You used the right tool for the right job.

    But if it's balancing sky and foreground, or deep shadows in open spaces, HDR is a great tool to have.
  19. radimere

    radimere TalkEmount Regular

    Apr 2, 2013
    Thanks for putting a name to it, tommie. I do a bit of 3D visualization and when CG practitioners say "HDRI" we refer to a 32-bit file with massive exposure cooked in. So, in a sense, exposure fusion is "real HDR", and tone mapping is a watered-down conversion. Also, when manipulating a 32-bit image you have the option of dodging & burning it and drawing ND gradients, which isn't possible with a global tone mapping process.
    • Like Like x 1
  20. loonsailor

    loonsailor TalkEmount Regular

    Feb 7, 2013
    Berkeley, CA, USA
    Like Jefanator, I'm amazed at the exposure latitude of modern sensors if you shoot raw. And I always shoot raw. Personally, if in doubt I bracket, exactly like I would have back in the film days. The difference now is that it's so easy. Just set your camera to shoot a bracket, as wide an EV as possible. Then, have a look when you get to your computer. In your software (I use lightroom) look at the best exposure, and see if you've got the detail you want in highlight and shadow. If not, go to your HDR software (I use photomatix). Using that, you can render your photo as you like, either natural or more HDR-ish.

    Sometimes, despite the magic of modern sensors, there's just no choice. Here's a shot in Sequoyah National Park. (There are some more at


    There's just way too much dynamic range in the redwoods, even for a modern sensor. You could never get the sky and the dark, shadowed bark, especially the burned area at the bottom. In the case of this image, it does look a bit HDR'ish because I liked it. On the other hand, the following one looks more natural, but still needed bracketed HDR to capture the range, from the highlights on the bark on the right and the backlit trees on the left, to the shadows on the bottom.


    BTW, these were done some time ago. The software has improved considerably since then, so that some of the halo effect that you see in a couple of the images is no longer a problem. Perhaps I should re-do these images some time.

    Anyway, to summarize, my advice is to forget about in-camera HDR, always shoot raw (for many reasons!), bracket if you're in any doubt, and make the decision to go HDR (and how to render the HDR) in post.

    BTW, we are very lucky to live in a time when we can have this discussion. There was no way to get this kind of dynamic range on film. Digital rocks!
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